Lay off that man on the couch watching his third bowl game in a row; he is a connoisseur of art. And this I believe. We rightfully cherish the arts but most of us are blind to some of the most exquisite artistry of all—sports.
Why do we cherish the arts? Because they give us beauty to behold, an understanding of the human condition, the inspiration that can only come from glimpsing something greater than ourselves? Are not these same attributes the very reasons why we watch sports?
Anyone who says there is no beauty in sports has never seen Gayle Sayers run with a football. They’ve never seen Nolan Ryan pitch, Muhammad Ali jab, Tracy Caulkin swim, or Tiger Woods standing with a sand wedge in his hands. Are the pirouettes of Nureyev on the stage more beautiful than the stride, stop, and twirl of Mays in the outfield? The physical skill displayed is certainly, absolutely no less. As for beauty, give me Mays. They are my eyes after all.
Anyone who says that watching sports is not a direct window on the soul has not seen Greg Norman collapse in a major, Woody Hayes choke a player on the sidelines, or Mike Tyson in yet another ill-fated comeback attempt. Nor have they seen Kerri Strug land a vault on one leg with a whole country perched on her small back, or Kirk Gibson limping around the bases after the ultimate walk-off home run. For me, there was enough drama and human insight in the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team to fill the combined works of Dickens.
And those who would say that sports does not inspire, and does not give us a glimpse of something greater than ourselves, has not felt the shear joy, the camaraderie, the loyalty of seeing your team come back from twenty points down, nor have they experienced the heartbreak of seeing your team lose in the end. They have not seen the Red Sox do the improbable against the Yankees, or Villanova do the impossible against Georgetown. Nor do they know that Satchel Paige pitched till he was sixty, Blanda kicked till he was almost 50, and George Foreman won the heavyweight title when he was 45. They have not heard of Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson, of Babe Didrikson, Cathy Freeman, and Jim Thorpe.
Some might point out that sports does not result from contemplation and inspiration the way art often does. Yet there is immense contemplation and inspiration, and not a little bit of art, in a Bill Belichek game plan.
But I would mostly agree. Sports is quite raw when compared to the traditional arts. What you see on the field and on the court is not scripted; it is not rehearsed; it is not edited, revised, or revamped. It’s alive; it is life, in microcosm and in reality. And like jazz on its best night, sports is a fluid improvisation on familiar themes but always with that hint of mystery, that hint of danger because you don’t know where its going but you know you’ve never been there before, never quite like this.
Every time I see a sports event, something happens that surprises me, amazes me, gives me hope and inspiration. And isn’t that the most we can hope for from an art form?
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